The College Football Czar
Week eleven in review: Another national contender from the SEC took a hit, and this time not because they’re all playing each other. Instead, Auburn suffered an unlikely 41-38 upset against Texas A&M, which hadn’t really played a good game since the opening night of the season. Mind you, according to the SEC supremacy argument, this result only proves how tough the conference really is. Why, did you know that all three of the Aggies’ losses have also been to SEC opponents? In their nonconference schedule, they’ve pulverized four whimpering bags of cottage cheese, so their overall record is a stellar 7-3! S-E-C! S-E-C! S-E-freakin-C!
As if you hadn’t already guessed, the College Football Czar hereby extends a Lardhead of the Year Award nomination to Utah wide receiver Kaelin Clay, who was about to score a touchdown to give his Utes a 14-0 lead against Oregon, when he let go of the ball at the two-yard line as he coasted into the end zone. It was quite understandable, really. He couldn’t very well have continued carrying the ball in his right arm, when he needed that same arm to pound himself in the chest and point to the name on the back of his jersey. Two of Clay’s teammates had run past ball on their way to join him in celebration, when a couple of the Ducks observed that the play had not been blown dead. 100 yards later, UO linebacker Joe Walker had taken the ball all the way into the opposite end zone for the tying score.
In Clay’s defense, he has been extremely apologetic for behavior that he acknowledges was selfish, but why should it have taken as hard a lesson as this? Every year we see at least two similar instances, in which the ball-carrier casually drops the ball before reaching the goal line, because his need to do something obnoxious in the end zone supersedes his interest in scoring six points for his team. If unsportsmanlike conduct were penalized by the officials and discouraged by the coaches as it should be, plays like this would never, ever happen. There are those in the sports media who actually defend unsportsmanlike conduct by calling it “fun.” How much fun do they think Kaelin Clay is having right now?
Oregon has been bumped up to #2 in the new CFP rankings, ahead of undefeated Florida State. The Czar thinks this is correct, but he’s surprised the committee did it. He still finds it ridiculous that the four playoff spots will be determined subjectively, but is encouraged that the committee is willing to defy the lardheaded conventional wisdom. It will ultimately make little difference, because the Ducks are idle this week, so the Noles will almost certainly pass them again if they can beat Miami on Saturday.
There doesn’t seem to be any happy medium for the College Football Czar, who followed his two best weeks of the season by sliding right back down to a 10-8 mark in Week 11. He was stymied in particular by the Big XII, in which he went 1-3, with Kansas State, West Virginia and Iowa State all being defeated. For the season, the Czar is 143-83, for a .633 winning percentage.
Because the Czar usually posts his picks on Thursday, he likes to include a Friday night game. He has opted not to do so this week, for the simple fact that there is only one game on Friday (Tulsa at Central Florida), and it stinks. So, without further ado, here are his picks for this Saturday.
Pitt at North Carolina
In last year’s 34-27 UNC victory, WR Ryan Switzer gummed up the works for the Panthers with two touchdowns on punt returns, the second one being the game-winner, after Pitt had rallied all the way back from a 27-3 deficit.
The Tarheels, whose record matches the Panthers’ at 2-3 in the ACC and 4-5 overall, have no running backs who are gaining as much as four yards per carry. QB Marquise Williams, who is averaging 4.1, leads the team with 501 rushing yards, while sophomore T.J. Logan leads all RBs with 252. One result of this has been a consistent disadvantage in time of possession, which can make turnovers especially costly.
Panther wide receiver Tyler Boyd called out a majority of his teammates this week, charging that “just a select few” are “willing to go all out.” An article in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review quotes Boyd rattling off nine players, including himself, whom he thinks are giving an acceptable effort. Intentionally or not, he omitted the name of quarterback Chad Voytik, and it was noticeable. When a reporter pointed this out to him, Boyd said that he didn’t mean to leave out his QB, offering the comically tepid endorsement, “That’s pretty much my man.” In truth, Voytik could stand to try a little less hard to get Boyd the ball, and not throw to him in such tight coverage so often.
All right, so Switzer’s is a licorice, not a gum. So who are you, the confectionary police?
Pitt 44, North Carolina 39
Temple at Penn State
If you can imagine what it would be like if Emo Philips sang “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” that’s about how torturous it was to watch the Nittany Lions’ 13-7 win at Indiana. Sophomore QB Christian Hackenberg completed only 12 of 29 passes, with no touchdowns and two interceptions, one of which was returned for the Hoosiers’ only score.
The Owls are 3-38-1 all-time against PSU, their last victory coming a month and a half before Pearl Harbor. As competitive as they’ve been over the past few meetings, they’ve still got a lower winning percentage in the series than Fink has against The Stomach.
During TU’s first four games against I-A opponents, they averaged 33 points while winning three. In the four games since, they’ve gone 1-3, while averaging 16.8 points per game. What makes that drop-off more alarming is that the level of the competition has been pretty consistent over the course of the season.
You’ll remember that The Stomach was the reigning champion at devouring weenies – kind of like the SEC of competitive eating.
Penn State 14, Temple 11
Mississippi State at Alabama
It was another glorious nonconference conquest for the SEC last week, when MSU defeated the legendary Tennessee-Martin, who in the early 80s had sold more records than Elvis or the Beatles.
Bama-LSU was a great game as usual, but why did the officials decide to needlessly intrude on it late in the fourth quarter? With two minutes to play in a 10-10 tie, a man on the Louisiana State punt coverage tried to down the ball just outside the goal line, but couldn’t stop his momentum and carried it the end zone for what should have been a touchback. The problem was that some meddlesome official blew his whistle before the ball had broken the plane of the goal line, so that the Crimson Tide had to start from inside the one-yard line. Two plays later, T.J. Yeldon fumbled while struggling to get his team some breathing room, potentially placing his team six yards from defeat.
Once the Tigers had the ball, they were conveniently called for unnecessary roughness on a very routine post-play shove. At that point, they gave up on scoring a touchdown, and ran the ball to make the Tide use its timeouts. The ensuing field goal forced left Alabama 50 seconds to mount a furious last-minute drive to tie the game up again. Finally, the pachyderms prevailed 20-13 in overtime.
As Heisman candidates go, Bulldog QB Dak Prescott isn’t as obvious a choice as Jameis Winston was last year, but at least he spells his name right. Probably. Prescott has hurt his chances in recent weeks, however, by throwing five picks in his last three conference games.
Well, would you believe that Tennessee-Martin sold more records than Emo Philips, then?
Alabama 27, Mississippi State 14
Florida State at Miami
The Hurricane coaches have had an idle week to dissect the weaknesses of their arch rivals, which for an undefeated team are plentiful. Jameis Winston has been an unremarkable quarterback this year even when healthy, which he might not be at the moment. Also, the Seminoles rank outside the Top 100 in rushing offense, their pass defense is ranked 12th in the ACC, and they’ve committed over 800 yards’ worth of penalties.
The 6-3 Canes may not be Category 1, but surely they ought to have some kind of ranking, after blowing out Cincinnati (55-34), Virginia Tech (30-6) and North Carolina (47-20) in their last three games. The three teams to have defeated them this year (Louisville, Nebraska and Georgia Tech) have a combined record of 23-6.
FSU coach Jimbo Fisher expressed his displeasure with the new rankings by saying, “I thought the name of the game was to keep winning.” Surely, he knows better. If that were all there was to it, unranked 8-0 Marshall would be contending for a national championship as well. This year’s Noles are clearly not as good as 9-1 Oregon, or 8-1 Alabama, for that matter. The problem for Fisher’s team isn’t just the modest margins of victory they’ve posted, but the fact that they’ve been consistently, seriously challenged by middle-echelon opponents. What they lack is substance points, not style points.
In case you’re wondering why the Hurricanes are called “the U,” that’s because they were named that by opposing players. Actually, that’s the abridged version. The name they’re usually called is, “You @*#^&!” For obvious reasons, that second part is usually left off.
Miami 38, Florida State 31
Nebraska at Wisconsin
When Cornhusker RB Ameer Abdullah injured his knee two weeks ago, coach Bo Pelini was certain he’d be just fine for this battle of Big Ten West co-leaders. Now, all of a sudden, he isn’t so sure. The Badger coaches will undoubtedly assume he was right the first time.
It’s UW’s own tailback, Melvin Gordon, who leads the nation with 1,501 rushing yards. Gordon has broken the 100-yard mark in every game this season, except for an early tune-up against the I-AA Western Illinois Leathernecks, who somehow managed to collar him for 2.2 yards per carry.
If either team can get by with its star running back at less than 100 percent, it’s the N-men, whose quarterback, Tommy Armstrong, has been steady if unspectacular. The Badgers’ duo of Tanner McEvoy and Joel “Rico” Stave have combined for only ten TD passes, and an equal number of interceptions.
Everyone knows about the cheeseheads, but the visitors from Lincoln have traditional yellow plastic headgear of their own, in the form of giant ears of corn. Between the two of them, the Czar would have expected the Nebraska hats to be the ones with the holes in them. After all, nobody ever plays “cheesehole” while tailgating before the game.
Nebraska 21, Wisconsin 20
Rice at Marshall
The pundits are projecting that the Thundering Herd, if they win out, will be the one “group of five” school that gets to play in a top-tier New Year’s bowl game. At the risk of sounding disrespectful, phooey! The Herd’s best opponents on their regular season schedule have been Middle Tennessee, and this Owl team. By comparison, Colorado State’s only loss has been at Boise State, and the Rams have beaten Boston College, Utah State and Nevada.
A year ago, the moo-men stampeded through their C-USA regular season unbeaten, only to be ambushed by the Owls, 41-24 in the conference title game. David Bailiff’s bunch controlled that game with their ground attack, which this year is on pace to gain about 1,000 yards fewer than in 2013.
Marshall currently ranks second in the nation in average points scored, and sixth in fewest points allowed, as they have outscored their opponents by an average score of 48-17. Quarterback Rakeem Cato trails Oregon State’s Sean Mannion among active career passing leaders by 148 yards, but he should be able to pass him easily, with the benefit of a C-USA title game and a bowl game in his favor.
It’s a little-known fact that the Group of Five was the original name of the Monkees. Then, they discovered that the same band member who pretended to play the tambourine could also pretend to play the maracas, so they laid the fifth guy off.
Marshall 52, Rice 31
Auburn at Georgia
The Auburn “team of destiny” talk that finally ended with last week’s loss to Texas A&M started almost a year ago, when they scored on a fourth-down, 73-yard pass play to beat the Bulldogs 43-38. They didn’t do it without help, though. It was only because a pair of UGA defenders selfishly tried to intercept the ball instead of batting it down that one of the year’s most memorable plays was made possible.
This would have sounded really dumb a few weeks ago, but how much does it matter that Todd Gurley is returning to the lineup this week? In the four games since Gurley was suspended, freshman Nick Chubb has rushed for 671 yards and five touchdowns.
Leading Tiger receiver D’haquille “Duke” Williams sprained a knee in the A&M game, and is not likely to play this week. Williams was hurt early in the second quarter, leaving with a season-low one reception for the game.
As long as “Dak” is being accepted as a college football name, why doesn’t D’haquille use it too?
Georgia 28, Auburn 25
Utah at Stanford
A year ago, the eventual Pac 12 champion Cardinal were stuffed at Salt Lake City 27-21, by a Ute team that would go on to lose its next five. Not only is it a more even matchup this year, but Utah even appears to be the better team going in.
The Cardinal have lost four games in a season for the first time since 2009. In fact, they don’t yet have this year’s postseason bid in the bag. If they don’t avenge last year’s loss to the Utes, they’ll have dropped to .500, with their two remaining games against an improved Cal club and South division contender UCLA.
When the replay official confirmed that Kaelin Clay’s dropped ball was a fumble, the Rice-Eccles Stadium crowd started chanting an expletive meant to express incredulity. Did they think that getting the ball within two yards of the goal line is close enough for a gimme? What will they demand next, Mulligans on field goal attempts?
That’s pretty naughty behavior for the inhabitants of a state where even strong soft drinks are discouraged. You’d think they’d simply chant in unison, “Incredulity! Incredulity!” Then, they wouldn’t have to be embarrassed.
Utah 20, Stanford 17
Ohio State at Minnesota
Before the season, the Golden Gophers were told they’d win the Big Ten when pigs floyd. Well, they captured one pig Floyd in last week’s 51-14 blowout of Iowa, which proves they’ve got a chance.
The Buckeyes took a big step up in competition last week, but barely even broke stride in a 49-37 track meet against mighty Michigan State. Freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett threw for exactly 300 yards, including consecutive second-quarter TD passes of 78 and 44 yards to give OSU the lead for good.
The origin of the “Ski-U-Mah” slogan on the front of the U of M helmets is kind of hard to explain. Its creator supposedly thought he had taken it from a Sioux exclamation having something to do with victory, but he evidently misunderstood, because there is apparently no such phrase in the Sioux language. So let me get this straight, the Gophers objected to having the word “Redskin” uttered in their stadium at a Washington-Minnesota NFL game, but they’re allowed to mock the Indians with a cartoonish interjection that ranks right up there with “Ugh.”
Me thinkum they heap big hypocrites.
Ohio State 51, Minnesota 40
Missouri at Texas A&M
Can the Conjunction Boys conjure up an “and” to keep the momentum going from their 41-38 win over Auburn, or have they shot all the ampersands in their quiver?
The defending SEC East champion Tigers have got as lame a schedule as a team in that league can possibly have. Not only are they in the far weaker division, but their only two West division opponents are A&M and Arkansas. Moreover, their biggest nonconference win was against Central Florida, and their non-SEC loss was to Indiana.
The Aggies (7-3, 3-3) are nowhere near leading the nation in passing like they did last year behind Johnny Manziel, but they have a chance to equal their 2013 record (9-4, 4-4). Their two remaining regular-season games, against Mizzou and LSU, are both at home.
In an NFL preseason game, former Tiger Michael Sam sacked ex-Aggie Johnny Manziel, and then mimicked the abrasive QB’s infamous money sign. Sam will have to find himself a different gimmick, though, because you can’t rub a loonie dollar between your fingers like that.
Texas A&M 37, Missouri 35
Nevada at Air Force
The 7-2 Falcons have already captured the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy, but adding a Mountain West championship trophy won’t be nearly as easy. Even with a win over the Wolf Pack, they’d probably have to beat both San Diego State and Colorado State to earn a berth in the league title game.
The flyboys are fourth in the Mountain West’s Mountain division at 3-2, trailing CSU, Boise State and Utah State. Nevada, also 3-2, sits atop what ought to be known as the Molehill division. They’re tied with SDSU for first place, but in their last game they dominated the Aztecs in the second half, to win by a final of 30-14 and secure the tie-breaking advantage.
The AFA had better beware of the Wolf Pack, and if you don’t know why, just look at the teams’ helmet logos. There’s a lightning bolt, just like the one on the Falcon helmets, in the throat of the Nevada wolf. That means the Pack eat lightning, and play thunderhole at the tailgate parties.
Nevada 32, Air Force 28
Clemson at Georgia Tech
Freshman quarterback DeShaun Watson returns for the Tigers, but how will his accuracy be in his first game back after surgery on his throwing hand? Will the Son of Clem be betrayed by its own paw?
In Watson’s absence, the Tigers have gone 4-0, although that would not have likely held up through an upgrade in competition. In their last two games, they’ve dominated in total yardage, but still had trouble pulling away from Syracuse and Wake Forest.
The Yellowjackets scored 56 points for the second time in two road games, and this time they didn’t even have six Pitt fumbles to help them along. Last week at Nc State, they put on a Raleigh big sheww, as they rolled up 479 rushing yards in a 56-23 romp.
Better to see Watson’s paw in action that Cole Stoudt’s. The Czar saw enough of ol’ Cliff during his stint with the Steelers, when he threw twice as many interceptions as touchdowns. Still, at least Cliff had a career. What in blazes did Clem ever do?
Georgia Tech 42, Clemson 33
Washington at Arizona
The Wildcats (7-2, 4-2) are in fourth place in the Pac 12 South, but they’re only a game out of first. With a season finale at home against first-place Arizona State, they can stay well within striking distance with a win over Washington.
Injuries have forced the Huskies to Shaq things up on offense by moving linebacker Shaq Washington to running back. After three starts at that position, the versatile junior already leads the team in rushing. In a Week 10 win over Colorado, he gained 174 yards on just 15 carries, one of those a 24-yard TD to get his team on the board after trailing 10-0.
Cats’ LB Scooby Wright seems like he can do no wrong. So far this season, he’s forced five fumbles and recorded 13 sacks, and generally has been right where his teammates need him on practically every play. Scooby is leading such a charmed life, it’s only a matter of time before he wanders into an abandoned trailer filled with fresh submarine sandwiches. He probably won’t even choke himself on the toothpicks that are holding the olives on top.
Arizona 27, Washington 13
Michigan State at Maryland
Terrapin wide receiver Stefon Diggs is suspended for this game, but he couldn’t have played anyway, because he suffered a lacerated kidney against Penn State two weeks ago. In hindsight, he would probably have been a little better off just shaking hands.
Up until last week, the Spartans’ story was that they’d played well in a loss at Oregon, and therefore were the best one-loss team in America. Now that they’ve been beaten a second time, it seems that they’ve got more good losses than good wins. In fact, the only winning Division I-A team they’ve beaten so far is Nebraska, and they very nearly blew that game after leading 27-3 in the fourth quarter.
MSU athletic director Mark Hollis and coach Mark Dantonio actually criticized the home fans for leaving that game early. “We needed it to be loud out there,” Dantonio said. The fans aren’t going to win the game for you, coach. That’s your job. What were you doing while your team was surrendering 568 yards and 49 points to Ohio State last week, waiting for cheering fans to knock the Buckeye ball-carriers down with sound waves?
Michigan State 30, Maryland 22
Kentucky at Tennessee
The Volunteers revived their season two weeks ago in a dramatic 45-42 overtime triumph over South Carolina. Butch Jones’ team – which has dared to take on a nonconference slate that included Oklahoma, Utah State and Arkansas State – must now win two of their last three in the conference.
The 5-5 Wildcats were once 5-1, but their last four games have all been against contending SEC teams. In consecutive losses to LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri and Georgia, they’ve been outscored 169-75.
Vols’ leading receiver Pig Howard is the cousin of former Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Just some information the College Football Czar has decided to pass along, in a new segment he’s decided to entitle the “Unsurprising factoid of the week.”
Tennessee 26, Kentucky 16
Georgia Southern at Navy
The 8-2 Eagles’ only losses have been on the road against ACC teams. If only a couple plays had gone differently, we might be speculating about their going undefeated in their first season of Division I-A membership. GSU led through most of its opener against Nc State, before giving up a late TD to lose 24-23. Then, their 42-38 loss to Georgia Tech was marred by a blown fumble call, which let Tech retake the lead after a 28-point, second-half Eagle rally.
Another idle week should be a big help to Middies’ QB Keenan Reynolds, who has been hobbled this season, as usual. In a 49-39 loss to Notre Dame two weeks ago, Reynolds threw two TD passes for the first time all year, but he also had his fewest rushes in any single game this season. Expect him to keep the ball more often this game, as his team tries to overtake the visitors from Statesboro as the top rushing team in the nation.
If the Midshipmen don’t win this one, they’ll need to beat both South Alabama and Army in order to secure a bid in the Poinsettia Bowl. They would be expected to win both of those games, but they’d rather not leave themselves in a do-and-do-or-die situation.
That’s just a figure of speech, of course. The great thing about sports is that they aren’t really that serious, that anyone has to die just because he lost a game. Unless you’re a Mayan, that is … or a Colombian soccer player.
Navy 32, Georgia Southern 29
Texas at Oklahoma State
Don’t look now, but Charlie Strong’s team has just made a power move in the Big XII standings, winning its last two games handily to climb to 4-3 in the conference, and 5-5 overall. With one win in their last two games, the Longhorns would go to a bowl game, and be far more deserving than other .500 teams, having not had the benefit of beating up on any lower-division opponents.
Mike Gundy the Man has been handled in his last three games, in which his Cowboys have been clobbered by ranked opponents TCU, West Virginia and Kansas State, by an combined score of 124-33. Every one of OSU’s five victories this year has been against an opponent that currently has a losing record.
So, the Cowboys and the boy cows are meeting just because they happen to be conference opponents? What a remarkable coincidence. The Czar had assumed that they were gathering at an awareness seminar, both being members of the trans-species community.
Texas 39, Oklahoma State 21
San Diego State at Boise State
Last week at New Mexico, the Broncos must have been smoking adobe until the fourth quarter, when they broke out of their defensive lethargy to win, 60-49. BSU had trailed 49-38 late in the third quarter, but finally stopped UNM for two turnovers on downs in the fourth.
The Aztecs guaranteed themselves a bid to the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl late last season, when they bumped off BSU 34-31 at Qualcomm Stadium. Neither team rushed for 100 yards that day, but the ground game should play a bigger role for each of them this time. Opposing RBs Jay Ajayi and Donnel Pumphrey are both among the nation’s top 15 rushers.
The Tater State made a return visit to San Diego last week, when Rocky Long’s team spuddered past lowly Idaho 35-21. It was only a seven-point game in the fourth quarter, when SDSU converted the game’s only turnover into a touchdown to put the game away.
Famous Idaho Potatoes have eyes, but cannot see, but even they hate the blue turf at Bronco Stadium – just because they have to hear about it all the time.
Boise State 47, San Diego State 34
South Carolina at Florida
The 5-3 Gators have a chance to become bowl-eligible this week, but if they don’t succeed, they’ll have another chance next week against the Division I-AA Eastern Kentucky Colonels. In fact, UF would have clinched a bid already, if their lightning-delayed opener against Idaho hadn’t been wussily canceled due to allegedly “unsafe and unplayable field conditions.”
The Gamecocks’ only win in their last five games has been against Division I-AA Furman. They’ve lost each of their last four conference games by seven points or fewer. They’ve actually trailed none of those games going into the fourth quarter, having led Missouri, Kentucky and Tennessee, and been tied with Auburn.
SC coach Steve Spurrier wouldn’t have much to hang his hat on this year, even if he owned one. He’s not about to let himself be pushed to the brink of bowl elimination, however, by his old ball club in Gainesville.
If your home field is called The Swamp, how can conditions on it be considered unplayable just because it’s wet? Next thing you know, the Gators will be heard complaining to each other about having “combination skin.”
South Carolina 35, Florida 24
a sports publication from The Shinbone